Friday, May 26, 2017

Brainstorm 112: Summer Reading Challenge - Set Sail on a Sea of Pages

It’s summer time, so that means it is time for another optional summer reading challenge! This year I’m challenging you to read broader geographically by reading authors from various countries or books set in those countries. You can chart your reading on the map provided showing where you travel via books over the summer (click on the map below for a pdf file). If you want to record the titles you read too, you can write them on the map, on the back or on the suggested sailing routes sheet (list also shared below). I'll share a few ideas for each location in the coming week. Have fun, and happy sailing!

Where will you sail via pages this summer? Here are some ideas. You decide which to do. This is a voluntary challenge. You set your own goals and guidelines.
Trace your summer voyages on your map! Write book titles you read on this sheet, another sheet, or on your map.

  • Read a book by an African author or set in Africa – M on map

  • Read a book set in Antarctica – S on map

  • Read a book by an Australian or set in Australia – R on map

  • Read a book by a Caribbean author or set in the Caribbean – L on map

  • Read a book by a Central American author or set in Central America – K on map

  • Read a book by an East Asian author or set in East Asia – H on map

  • Read a book by an Eastern European author or set in Eastern Europe – F on map

  • Read a book set in an imaginary place – T on map

  • Read a book by an Indian subcontinent author or set in the Indian subcontinent – J on map

  • Read a book by a Middle Eastern author or set in the Middle East – I on map

  • Read a book by a North American author or set in North America – B on map

  • Read a book by an Oceana/Pacific Island author or set in Oceana/Pacific Islands – P on map

  • Read a book by an astronaut/cosmonaut or set in outer space – A on map

  • Read a book by a Russian author or set in Russia – D on map

  • Read a book by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia – C on map

  • Read a sea story (set mostly on a boat at sea) – Q on map

  • Read a book by a South American author or set in South America – O on map

  • Read a book by a Southeast Asian author or set in Southeast Asia – N on map

  • Read a book by a UK author or set in the United Kingdom – E on map

  • Read a book by a Western European author or set in Western Europe – G on map

Bonus Challenges: 

Read a fictional book.

Read a nonfiction book.

Read a collection of poems, essays, or short stories.

Read a graphic novel.

Read a book translated from the author’s original text into a language you read.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Brainstorm 111: Fantastic fantasy

Today is the Class of 2017’s last day of school here. It’s a bittersweet day. This class had a couple of really great readers who devoured books at an astounding rate (and from whom I fully expect grand novels of their own in the future). All of these super readers have one genre in common that they love, fantasy. These teens came from different cultures and backgrounds but found commonality in that these books inspired their intellects with smartly built fantastic worlds, amazingly imagined new creatures, plot lines that managed to surprise them, and the great exercise of asking ‘What if…?’ I’d frequently overhear some truly deep discussions sparked by these books. Fantasy can be a great medium for readers to discover truths about their own lives and world by seeing things in new ways. So in honor of the super readers graduating in 2017, two picture books that seem written about these book lovers and some fantastic fantasy. Hand these books to your favorite fantasy lover and/or readers who like to ask ‘What if…?’ The best thing about the books on this list is their wide reader appeal. Boys love them, girls love them, middle graders dare to crack the covers of the YA and adult books and adults are unashamed to revisit the middle grade and YA books. And I think that suffices as a Target Reader summary for all of these so I'll forgo that in this post.

Picture Books

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers & Sam Winston
An ode to stories and the power of the imagination, that includes an invite to come and enjoy them too. If any book summarizes these Seniors best, it’d be this one.

The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers
Henry eats books. No, not metaphorically. He literally eats books. And the more he eats, the smarter he finds himself. He starts setting his sights on being the smartest person in the world, but when his devouring starts to become too much for his mind and stomach to keep up with, he finds he has to give up his strange diet and find another way to devour the information in the books he craves.

Middle Grade Fantasy

The Chronicles of Narnia C.S. Lewis
The classic series about the Pevensies and other children who travel to the magical land of Narnia and work to set things right in the ongoing battle of good versus evil.

The Princess and the Goblin series by George MacDonald
Princess Irene and Curdie have adventures fighting off goblins and discovering important things about themselves as they journey.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series Rick Riordan
Demigod Percy Jackson works with other demigods to try and keep the world safe from Kronos and his monsters. (Continued on in several other branch off series.)

Alcatraz Smedry series by Brandon Sanderson
A series about a family with…odd talents who must save the world from falling into the hands of an evil group bent on controlling the way people see and understand the world.

The Rithmatist series by Brandon Sanderson
Joel wants to be a Rithmatist, a person who can make chalk circles, lines, and drawings come to life. He knows more than most teens his age do about Rithmatics. He can draw all the circles and stuff, but he missed the 8yr old ceremony and never became one. That doesn't quench his thirst to know as much as he can about Rithmatics, but there's just one problem...only Rithmatists are allowed to take Rithmatic classes. So Joel comes up with a hair-brained scheme to get to do an independent study with one of the Rithmatist professors at the academy he attends and his mother works for. But things get more serious when Rithmatist students start turning up missing with evidence of foul play. Can he and Professor Fitch figure out what is going on before it incites political problems or even war?

The Forbidden Library series by Django Wexler
Alice's world is turned upside down the first time when she accidentally sees her father having a conversation with a real, live fairy. Her world is then overthrown again when her father is presumed dead after the boat he is traveling on sinks in a storm and she is sent to live with an Uncle Geryon she's never heard of. Life there is rather dull, until she follows a cat through a rather unusual library on the grounds of the estate and finds herself inside a book. After this accident, Alice discovers that she is a Reader, someone who can find and use magic in books. Once this becomes known, it is clear that there are many people and other creatures interested in using Alice for her skill. Alice's one goal is to figure out what for sure happened to her father, while others want her to find a special book, the Dragon, that promises to be dangerous in the wrong hands.

Young Adult Fantasy

The Dark Lord of Derkholm series by Diana Wynne Jones
Residents of a fantasy world are fed up with the tours of people coming through to observe them in their fantasy roles so they plan a revolt, with hilarious results. This series pokes fun at all the fantasy tropes and cliches (in love). Best read by those who have devoured numerous fantasies already.

Howl’s Moving Castle series by Diana Wynne Jones
The adventures of the Wizard Howl, his family, and his quirky castle with doors to many lands.

The Beyonders series by Brandon Mull
Jason, 8th grader and baseball pitcher, finds himself entering an alternate universe after getting swallowed by a hippo. (Yes, you read that right. A hippo. Kudos to Mull for finding possibly the most unique way to get to an alternate universe.) Jason finds himself drawn into a quest to save this other world from the evil magician-emperor. As a person from Earth, he is known as a Beyonder. He quickly meets Rachel, another Beyonder around his age who was brought to this world the same time as he was. Some even believe they were called there. He meets all sorts of people and creatures as he finds himself in quite a variety of locations on this quest. (This is a good middle grade/YA crossover series. It appeals equally to both groups.)

The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan
This series follows Will as he trains to become a Ranger under apprenticeship to legendary Ranger Halt. (You also get to know some other apprentices training to be knights, ambassadors, and cooks.) They travel much of the known reimagined medieval world as they work to fight evil and right wrongs with their bows and arrows. This is a light fantasy series in that there's not much magic at all except in the first book and it's a reimagined history with different location names and non-historical people but that are based on real historic cultures you can easily identify.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Do I even need to summarize some of these? Good wizards vs bad wizards. The good wizards are headed by the unlikely hero of a boy with a scar showing he managed not to die as a baby, the bad wizards are headed by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Most fantasy series fade into the background of popularity after a few years, this is showing no signs of fading.

Adult Fantasy

The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien
The classic stories about unassuming Hobbits who help save Middle Earth from evil. Seriously, if you don't know what this series is about, you need to rectify that immediately.

The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson
An epic fantasy series that will eventually cover three eras in one place. In the first period (kinda Victorian-ish), mist covers the world and a group of renegades who can use metals to give them special powers work to try and free the world from the evil choking it. In the second time period (kinda Western-ish), two lawmen and a woman fight crime using those same special powers their ancestors did, and uncover further secrets about the world along the way. The third period is as yet unwritten, but Sanderson says will be futuristic.

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
Princess Sarene arrives for her alliance wedding with the crown prince of Arelon to discover he’s dead. Unfortunately, she’s still married to him. Alone in a new country, Sarene must figure out how she can help her new home because it obviously has some serious political and magical issues. Meanwhile, her supposedly dead husband is inside Elantris, the previously unequalled magical city that for some reason has become cursed and is inhabited by those who wake up cursed with a strange affliction (and are thereby declared dead). Prince Raoden has decided he also must see if he can help figure out how to fix Elantris, his fellow cursed people, and his country. (Sanderson has a sequel in the works, but he is also working on a ton of other series as well, so it’s currently slated not to come out until 2020.)

The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson
Sanderson’s magnum opus series (and if you haven't figured out by now Sanderson is hands down our teens' favorite fantasy author...the fact that they'll read these books is proof). The series is promised to be ten volumes long. It's an epic fantasy about the broken kingdom of Roshar, ravaged by magical storms, inhabited by a host of peoples playing political games and of which we get to know several characters intimately. Sorry, that’s the best I can do in this amount of space. A proper summary would take about 10 pages. The series is currently at 2 volumes (#3 coming this fall, I've already had students asking to get in line for it) and each volume weighs in at a whopping 1,000+ pages. It’s epic, intricately detailed, and amazingly inspires homework-laden teens to make time to devour door stopper books in less than a week (which is practically miraculous). I delayed buying this series for our library because of the daunting size of the books. I thought students would faint on sight of them. But after lending out my personal copy to several of the students who inspired this post who were desperate to get their hands on these, I realized the size didn't phase them, bought the library copies, and they've proceeded to be devoured by an astounding number of students. It just goes to show, with the proper intrinsic motivation, no book is too long.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Brainstorm 110: Books for kids who are moving

As we are entering the last stretch in the school year, our international community always goes through a grieving process. Yes, we’re happy for making it this far. We’re eager for the summer break that’s ahead. But the end of the school year always means goodbyes. There are always students and coworkers who will be moving away, often to a different country. Moves can be tough. So I thought it would be a good time to highlight books that can help kids dealing with a move.

Picture Book Resources

My New Home by Marta Altés
A little critter deals with moving away from a house and friends he loves to a new place. It takes him a while to get adjusted, but eventually he comes to like the new place and new friends too.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Moving: A great book to use when talking to kids about the hardships of moving. It addresses very real struggles and hurts, while also offering hope. This is the shortest of the books in this list, and best one for the very youngest kids facing moves.
  • Animal Lovers: The main character is an animal (though what kind of animal is up for debate…is it a fox with a striped tail?), so this should be good for animals lovers.
  • Art Lovers: I like the art style in this. It helps convey the mood well. 

Teacup by Rebecca Young, ill. by Matt Ottley
A little boy has to leave his home, so he sets off in a boat with just a book, a bottle, a blanket, and a teacup full of dirt from his old home. The journey is sometimes peaceful and at other times scary, but eventually he finds a new place to call home.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Moving: This boy is dealing with a very extreme move.
  • Refugees: The text in this is short and eloquent and provides a modern folk tale/fable helping readers better understand the plight of refugees, which is important and beautifully done. 
  • Folk Tale/Fable Fans: As mentioned, the style of this is folklorish.
  • Art Lovers: What really shines in this are the illustrations. They are gorgeous. Full of symbolism and amazing beauty. 
  • Bonds of Shared Experience: The ending also provides a good opportunity to discuss why we like to have others who have experienced the same thing around us.

Alexander, Who’s Not (Do you hear me? I mean it!) Going to Move by Judith Viorst, ill. by Robin Preiss Glasser in the style of Ray Cruz
Alexander is most definitely NOT moving. His parents may be packing, his brothers may be packing, he may be saying goodbyes to people and places, but he's also plotting how to stay. And even if he might be coming around to moving, he's not going to admit it.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Moving: Viorst managed to make a tale of little boy angst and have him leave well even while sportin' an attitude. He says goodbye to both people and places, which is good for those moving. He relives good and bad memories of his home town, which is important. He expresses his fears about the future, even if he has a negative attitude, it becomes obvious his parents hear him and start to address those fears. And just maybe, some of what they've said is getting through. A good story for those having a hard time moving, or even those who seem to be handling it well. It's always good to check. Ask them if they are tempted to act like Alexander, or if they ever had thoughts like his, worries about the future, or plots to stay. It's a good discussion starter.
  • Humor Fans: The illustrations in this are black and white but so very expressive. Some of them are quite hilarious too. (Make sure to read the headline of the newspaper Mom is reading while Alexander is on the phone with his friend.) And the illustration of his imagined hiding in the pickle barrel is too funny. 
  • Realistic Character Fans: Alexander is a very believable character for those who like their stories true to life.

Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, ill. by Byron Barton
A boy is moving with his family from the East (which looks like New York City) out West. At first the boy is in denial about moving. He starts listing his worries and sharing his vision for what life will be like out West. (Much of which is hilariously ridiculous, though very believable to be concerns about a kid in a new place.) When he arrives out West, he meets a kid moving East. This kid shares his fears about how horrible life will be in the big city out East. Like our main character, much of what he fears is hilariously ridiculous. Thanks to that encounter and the evidence of his own eyes, our boy finds that many of his worries were not founded on facts, that there's much familiar, and maybe he can enjoy this new place too.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Moving: This is a great read for anyone preparing for or recovering from a move. 
  • Point of View: It's also a good book about perspective and point of view, with the main character’s view compared with the kid from the West’s view.
  • New Experience Worries: Moving isn’t the only thing that inspires worries; reading this is a good jumping off point to talk about the worries before any new experience. 
  • Worries about Next School Year: This point goes along with moving and new experiences. Kids may not be moving houses, but most of them will face a move in classroom next year. And there are always rumors about the next grade or a certain teacher. This may be a good book to read with kids and talk about their concerns for next year. You can also talk about how they can end the school year well. Do they need to say goodbye to the classroom they've spent so much time in this year? Do they need to be purposeful in saying goodbye to teachers they will only see occasionally in the future?
  • Hyperbole: If you’re looking for some examples of hyperbole, look no further than the boy’s vision of the West or the other kid’s vision of the East.
  • Humor Fans: That hyperbole makes this a fun and humorous read.

Double Happiness by Nancy Tupper Ling, ill. by Alina Chau
Gracie and Jake are moving. Moving away from their extended family to a new place with a new climate. Their Nai Nai (Grandma) gives them each a box to fill with memories they can take with them when they move. Told through a series of poems, the two Chinese American kids process moving and figure out what to put in their boxes.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:
  • Moving: Moving is often a traumatic experience for kids, and this perfectly encapsulates the highs and lows of that experience, putting it into just the right words, and great strategies to make the move easier. 
  • Chinese Culture: This has an interesting cultural flavor with some transliterated Chinese and some Chinese characters that are used throughout. 
  • Poetry Fans: The text in this is all in poetic form. 
  • Contemporary Fiction Fans: Another good pick for readers who like realistic stories.

Another possibility: There are tons and tons of various versions and adaptations of Disney/Pixar's Inside Out in book form. Many of them are also good for kids dealing with a move, as that is a main issue in the plot.

Middle Grade Fiction Resources

Book Scavenger (Book Scavenger, #1) by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, ill. by Sarah Watts
Emily's family is moving again. Her family's quest to live in all 50 States is starting to get a little old. It's the reason Emily usually tries not to make friends in new places. But her new neighbor James is another puzzle enthusiast and the same age, and before Emily realizes it, she's made a friend. She's not too used to this friend thing, and she might struggle with knowing how to be a good friend. Especially when she has to choose between taking time for her friendship or pursuing the next step in what she's sure is Mr. Griswold's next game. Emily's one constant in her past few moves has been her participation in Book Scavenger, a game created by Mr. Griswold where people hide books, solve puzzles to find books, of course read books, and move up the Book Scavenger sleuthing scale. When Emily and James stumble on a strange copy of Edgar Allan Poe's Gold Bug, she's sure it is part of Mr. Griswold's new game he was about to announce when he was mugged the day her family moved to San Francisco. Is she just imagining the puzzles? Will her obsession with the game cost her her friendship with James and him a swatch of hair in his cipher contest at school? Who else is after The Gold Bug and how far are they willing to go to get it?

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Cipher/Puzzle/Mystery Fans: Fans of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library and Westing Game are sure to love this. Not only because Emily mentions both books, but because of the ciphers and puzzles and the great big scavenger hunt/mystery involved in the story. Those who love to exercise their brain a little as they read will enjoy trying to figure out things with Emily and James. (And Bertman mentions in the back of the book some other similar gamest/challenges that are real, and as of October 2015, this book sparked the creation of a real Book Scavenger game.) Definitely a fun adventure/mystery for book and puzzle lovers. 
  • Moving: Kids who move a lot will also greatly identify with the issues Emily is dealing with about moving a lot such as being afraid to open up to new friends or getting too attached to a new place because then it'll just hurt more to leave. She makes progress in addressing these issues as the book progresses.
  • Friendship & Forgiveness: Emily learns some important things about friendship and forgiveness, along the way. And hopefully, readers can learn vicariously without making the same mistakes. 

Moo by Sharon Creech
After Luke and Reena's parents lose their jobs at a New York City newspaper, the family decides to move to Maine. Upon arrival, Reena finds the freedom to ride their bikes everywhere around town amazing. She does not find being volunteered to help curmudgeonly Mrs. Falala take care of the even worse tempered cow Zora, and neither does her little brother Luke. Zora seems to think it is her goal in life to make Reena's life as hard and muddy as possible. But then Mrs. Falala starts to get art lessons from Luke and seems to mellow a little, and Reena gets cow handling advice from experienced cow hands, Zep and Beat. Reena's going to need all the help she can get because Mrs. Falala wants her to show Zora at the fair.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Unique Text Format: Creech decided to use a blend of novel in verse and normal prose, which could be off-putting to some readers. I personally thought it was a good choice, as often the verse lent itself to express things that normal prose never could. 
  • Moving: Luke and Reena deal with a little bit of culture shock in moving from city living to a more rural village, and they have realistically mixed feelings about that. 
  • Domestic Animal Lovers: Cows aren’t a frequent main character in modern middle grade fiction, so I’m sure there are several readers out there who have been waiting for Zora to make her appearance and will love her.
  • Art Lovers: Luke is an artist, so those who like main characters who are artistic will like him. Art also is an important medium for helping Luke and Reena better connect with Mrs. Falala.
  • Contemporary Fiction Fans: A relatively quick read for those who like contemporary reads in a rural setting.